4 Tips for Helping Your Preschooler Dress Independently


“It’s Time to Go!”

Oh geez. We only have ten minutes.
“Son, come on! Put that toy down and get your shoes on!”
Ok, I have my phone, wallet, keys, diaper bag…..oh! The snacks!
“Son, what are you doing?! Put your shoes on!”
Ok, I’m ready. Now the baby.
“Baby, come here! We have to change your diaper and put your shoes on. Son, where are your shoes? They should already be on your feet!”
Where did I put the baby’s socks? There. Ok, now shoes. Oh yeah, he needs a hat today, too.
“SON! Are you kidding me? Put. Your. Shoes. On.”

parent and child yelling

“I can’t, mom. I want help.”

Really? After all that reminding and nagging, he just NOW asks for help? Why can’t he put his own shoes on? I don’t have time to get him ready now, too! Ugh.

Maybe your pandemic life has had to remain the same with work and childcare so your family experiences that exact stressful situation often. The yelling. The nagging. The frustration. The chronically late to everything. But how can you help your child get ready without actually having to help them get ready?

Or maybe your pandemic life is lived mostly at home. Someday, you’ll leave your house again. And you’ll want to already have the tools in place to make leaving the house less chaotic.

Either way, let’s get you and your child prepared for success. Here are some ways to foster get-ready independence.

1. The Choice is Clear

Choices are everything for a preschooler! Letting them have access to their clothes and accessories can empower them to get ready. But how does this work? Having the option to choose from at least two positive choices can give your child a sense of independence and halt any impending power struggles. For my own kiddo, I used this printable to make labels that I affixed to his dresser with contact paper. This way, he is able to easily pick which clothes he’d like. If your child can’t quite complete an entire outfit yet(that is weather appropriate at that), lay out two or three options in advance that they can choose from.

2. Stinkin’ Socks!

learning to put on socksEvery aspect of children’s socks is a parent’s worst nightmare–trying to keep socks on infants, finding matching socks after laundry day, and picking up stinky socks. The battle with socks is never-ending. Furthermore, preschoolers struggle a great deal trying to wriggle socks onto their balmy feet. I realized that putting socks on requires so much coordination and body awareness. How could I get his muscles ready for the coordination and muscle know-how needed to put on socks? Light bulb moment.

I pulled out my scrunchie collection! A scrunchie is an easy simulation of what is necessary for the sock process. The body positioning, the thumb insert inside the scrunchie, the pulling open, and the guiding over the toes and heel. My son and I did this special activity a few times per week to get him used to the process. Having socks that have the toe/heel color blocking can also aid in achieving the correct positioning.

3. These Shoes Were Made for Walkin’

Odds are, if you have the common getting-ready struggles that every parent has, you’ve already bought your child shoes that are easy enough for them to put on themselves. Slip-ons and velcro are winners. But why are they always always always on the wrong foot? My son used to ask which shoe went on which foot but that phase ended when he craved even more independence. His poor feet would start to feel sore or he’d be extra clumsy tripping over his own toes.

Shoe Matching TipI bought a sticker, cut it in half, and placed each half in the shoes to create a puzzle match. Once they have lined up the sticker image, they can correctly get the right shoe on the right foot.

4. Sweater Weather

Putting on a coat can be so confusing and usually ends in disaster and frustration. The coat flip is the easiest way to teach your child how to put on their own coat. Coat Flip step 2

Lay the coat on the floor with the hood directly in front of your child’s feet. This appears upside down but I promise it works. Have the child insert their hands into the arm holes and flip it over their heads. And bam! Their coat is on. Now for that zipper. Please note that a puffy coat should not be put on before being buckled in a carseat. 

For a full visual, check out this short video of the coat flip

It’s Go Time!

Getting dressed is only one part of the battle, we have other tips that may be helpful when you are trying to leave the house. Beyond these tips, it’s important to remember that fostering get-ready independence in your child takes time. It’s a process of practice for your child to learn these life skills. Know that it requires your patience in that process. Waiting and watching them struggle and try again and again gives them so many gifts–perseverance and pride, along with a new skill. Once the skills have been mastered, give gentle phrases or visual cues that guide your child during the whole getting ready process. This gives them next-level independence, whether you’re ready for it or not. 

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Amanda is a 31-year-old wife and mom, occasional secretary, on-pause knitter, sparse writer, and postpartum doula. Amanda neglects her dishes and laundry to play with her kids. She stays up too late and wakes too early. She loves volunteering at her sons’ school. One of her goals is to get a macaroni and cheese tattoo because she loves pasta that much. She enjoys learning about nature and early childhood education psychology. She’s a strong enneagram 4 which brings all the feelings. She hopes to grow into the hardcore, cool boy mom of her dreams. She mostly grew up in the Portland metro area but has also lived in AZ, VA, ND, and CA. She has been married to her sorta high-school sweetheart for almost 9 years. She and her husband have two sons - Oliver(4) and Osten(1). She currently lives in Unincorporated Hillsboro renting an old farmhouse there.